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Resistance and Tansheer

by Nermeen Hegazi


This is for the girl
with the suitcase packed
and the ticket bought
looking out from a threshold that stretches
like a marble ocean she can’t cross
without a shiny gold visa
stamped around her ring finger.
They snip at her wings;
she patches them with steel
but sometimes,

resistance can be exhausting.

This is for the young mother
with the baby still suckling at her breast
and another growing in her belly,
afternoons spent at her mother’s
and evenings
in the company of hungry wails and empty chairs.
Her husband nudges her awake at two a.m.
reeking of cigarettes and weariness.
Pills keep the leering shadows at bay
but who knew

resistance could be so exhausting?

And for the boy who is always late to prayer
because wudu’ takes at least five times to get right,
yet all the water of the seas combined
cannot drown the violent voices in his head.
Lying supine on his bed,
he pleads with God for a shorter sentence
because, you see,

resistance can be so terribly exhausting.

And for the girls with heads of wild curls
who’ve been told
that silky tresses frame the face like waterfalls:
calm, serene, and beautiful
and that fingers can’t be run through a jungle;
and for the ones who’ve been advised
to vie for fair and lovely skin
because beauty doesn’t come in their shade of melanin:
Sister, take my hand,

for I know, that resistance can be exhausting.



There’s no exact English equivalent for the word tansheer.
hanging-the-laundry on-the-clothesline
is a bulky awkward mouthful that doesn’t quite spin like “dryer.”

is a woman in a floral galabeya with a round tub of wet laundry next to her feet
checking to see if the neighbors downstairs
cleared their clotheslines.

is mama reminding you
to hold out the shirts at arm’s length
and snap out the wrinkles and excess water.

is groaning that you’re late for work;
can’t I do it when I get home?

is panties on the nearest line
behind the towels and bedsheets.

is the gunshot of thunder
that signals a hurtling stampede toward the balcony
to rescue dry clothes from the grey sky.

is a pair of furtive eyes
in his undershirt and slippers
clumsily hanging clothes in the belly of the night.

is a middle-aged engineer
wringing out his mother’s nightgowns
in the golden sunlight.

is the flap in the evening breeze,
your wardrobe on display,
colors, colors, colors.

is the stars overhead
and prayer on your breath,
water stinging your palms
like redemption.

is when water droplets
tap out your name
and I smile.

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